Botanical name: Hylocereus undatus
Who knew there was a plant with a flower like an explosion of flame, which produces a beautiful but short-lived fruit with the appearance of a brilliant pink rosebud? This is the pitya – dragon fruit – indigenous to Central America but is also grown and exported from several Southeast Asian countries, such as Thailand and Vietnam. Obtained from several cactus species, its succulent stem provides the uniquely delicious fruit with moisture in the arid climates where it grows.
Some dragon fruits have red or yellow skin (which looks a little like a soft pineapple with spikes) and white or red flesh, but always the beginnings of overlaid leaves, similar to an artichoke, and an abundance of small, black, edible seeds. The flavor is mildly sweet, like a blend of kiwi and pear, and it has a crunchy texture.
While it may seem a little strange at first, it's easy to get to the fruit. Simply slice lengthwise and either scoop out the flesh, or quarter it and peel back the leathery skin. Eat only the white part with seeds, removing any residual pink parts, which are bitter.
Health Benefits of Dragon Fruit
Dragon fruits have a surprising number of phytonutrients. Rich in antioxidants, they contain vitamin C (equivalent to 10 percent of the daily value), polyunsaturated (good) fatty acids, and several B vitamins for carbohydrate metabolism, as well as carotene and protein. Calcium is present for strong bones and teeth, iron and phosphorus for healthy blood and tissue formation. The benefits are realized in a number of ways, from a strengthened immune system and faster healing of bruises and wounds to fewer respiratory problems.
Dragon fruits have zero complex carbohydrates, so foods can be more easily broken down in the body, helped by vitamin B1 (thiamin) and other B vitamins. The phytochemical captin, used as a medication to treat heart problems, is present in the fruit itself, and an oil in the seed operates as a mild laxative.
The seeds of dragon fruits are high in polyunsaturated fats (omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids) that reduce triglycerides and lower the risk of cardiovascular disorders. Eating dragon fruit can help the body maintain such normal function as ridding the body of toxic heavy metals and improved eyesight. Lycopene, responsible for the red color in dragon fruit, has been shown to be linked with a lower prostate cancer risk.
However, consume dragon fruit in moderation because it contains fructose, which may be harmful to your health in excessive amounts.
Dragon Fruit Nutrition Facts
Serving Size: One dragon fruit (2 oz. or about 100 grams), peeled
Amt. Per Serving
Studies Done on Dragon Fruit
Detailed studies aimed at determining the relationship between a healthy diet of fruits and vegetables, lifetime physical activity, and oxidative DNA damage with prostate cancer were measured. Many details were telling, such as the fact that men between 45 to 54 years of age who did not engage in physical activity had three times the risk of prostate cancer. The conclusion was that a diet of fresh fruits and vegetables, especially those containing lycopene, such as dragon fruit, and exercise were found to be protective against the disease1.
Since limited information on the capacities of tropical fruits is available, one study explored with positive results the ability of tropical fruits such as dragon fruit to inhibit human cytochrome P450, which is highly expressed in the liver, but also known to be present other tissues such as in the small intestine, lung, and kidney, and especially linked to congenital glaucoma.2
Dragon Fruit Healthy Recipes: Truly Tropical Fruit Bowl
1½ cups fresh papaya, cubed
1 cup pineapple chunks
1 banana, sliced
1 cup mango, cubed
1 cup strawberries, sliced or cut into quarters
1 cup dragon fruit
Garnish: starfruit slices
Fruit salad dressing:
¼ cup coconut milk
1 Tbsp. freshly-squeezed lime juice
2 Tbsp. brown sugar or stevia
Stir fruit salad dressing ingredients together in a cup until sugar/stevia dissolves. Set aside.
Place all the fresh fruit in a mixing bowl. Pour the dressing over and toss well to mix.
Pour or scoop the fruit salad into a serving bowl, or into a prepared pineapple boat. Garnish just before serving with a few star fruit slices drizzled with fresh lime juice to prevent browning. Ready for the luau!
Dragon Fruit Fun Facts
The main reason for dragon fruit's preciousness is that it lives only one night! First, a climbing cactus produces a beautiful pink or yellow flower. Sometimes called "moonflower" or "Queen of the night," the plant blooms from evening to midnight, only to wither in strong sunlight. During the night, the pungent flowers are pollinated by moths and bats. Although the flower dies, the cactus bears pitya fruit about six times every year.
It could easily be called a "crazy" fruit, as its appearance is so improbable. Dragon fruit is low in calories yet offers numerous nutrients, including vitamin C, B vitamins, phosphorus, protein, calcium, fiber, captin, and antioxidants. It's proven to lower blood sugar levels as well as blood pressure, strengthen bones and teeth, promote healthy blood and tissue formation, strengthen the immune system, heal bruises and wounds faster and prevent respiratory problems.
Like other red fruits, dragon fruit contains lycopene, which helps protect against cancer and heart disease. How can all these benefits be taken advantage of in this visually beautiful, exotic fruit? It's best eaten chilled, chopped into cubes and added to fruit salad or blended into a refreshing drink or smoothie. This may become your new favorite fruit, and you don't even have to slay a dragon.